New Coordination Hub Research Brief: Evidence-based Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Girls and Women in STEM


By Karen Peterson, Chief Executive Officer, National Girls Collaborative Project; Katarina Lucas, Senior Project Manager, National Girls Collaborative Project; and Daniela Saucedo, NSF INCLUDES Coordination Hub

Image of 6 women presenting on a panel. One woman is standing and speaking into a microphone.March is Women’s History Month, a time “for commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.”1 This March, the NSF INCLUDES Coordination Hub is pleased to share our latest research brief, Evidence-based Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Girls and Women in STEM. The brief explores gender disparities along educational and career pathways and discusses strategies to address barriers to girls’ and women’s full participation in STEM. The brief incorporates intersectional2 approaches to addressing inequities specific to the experiences of girls and women of color.

We collaborated with NSF INCLUDES Network member organization National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), which works to unite organizations, practitioners, community-based organizations, K-12 and higher education institutions, and researchers throughout the United States committed to encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM. The insights and expertise of NGCP’s Karen Peterson, Chief Executive Officer, and Katarina Lucas, Senior Project Manager, were invaluable to the development of the brief.

Learn more about Evidence-based Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Girls and Women in STEM with the Q&A with Karen and Katarina below:

Q: Can you tell us more about the work that NGCP does to address gender inequities in STEM?

A: The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) brings together educators with scarce resources with a diverse array of stakeholders and champions. For a low investment, it facilitates the development of educators in their knowledge of gender equitable educational practices, awareness of the role of early education in STEM workforce development, and mutual support of peers locally and across the country. The great appeal of NGCP is its culture: collaboration, mutual helping by sharing speakers, facilities, materials, and identity with a critical national issue and community of practice devoted to it.

Q: Can you describe NGCP’s unique collaboration model? How does it work to expand and strengthen STEM-related opportunities for girls and women?

Image of 9 women collaborating at a round table.

A: NGCP’s model creates a network of practitioners and organizations from diverse sectors that are invested in increasing girls’ and women’s participation in STEM. This includes community-based organizations, K-12 and higher education, museums and science centers, researchers, and government. The unique collaboration model leverages practitioners’ and organizations’ existing knowledge, skills, and resources to help fill the needs of others, focusing on strengthening the collective. As a field, we accomplish more when practitioners and organizations can rely on collaborators to supplement their knowledge, skills, and resources, instead of having to learn and do everything on their own.

The NGCP collaboration model also gives the opportunity to provide high quality professional development and disseminate research-based resources and curriculum to our network of practitioners and organizations, which enables them to more effectively engage and support girls in STEM. Through this work, we help build the capacity of programs and organizations to positively impact girls’ interest and confidence in STEM and provide more opportunities to support girls in STEM pathways.

Q: What does intersectionality mean to NGCP? How is your project working to address the barriers specific to girls and women of color?

A: NGCP understands that the inequities across STEM disciplines are largely the product of intersectional inequalities, including gender, race, ethnicity, and class. These inequalities often discourage or hinder girls' identification with and participation in STEM. NGCP strives to dismantle these power structures through an intersectional approach centered on collaboration of a robust nationwide network of girl-serving programs. Research demonstrates that informal STEM programs are important in fostering girls’ interest, sense of belonging, and participation in STEM. NGCP supports and engages diverse programs serving Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Native American girls, as well as youth with disabilities, by maximizing shared resources and strengthening the capacity of girl-serving programs.

We maximize shared resources through our website, newsletters, online databases (such as FabFems and the IF/THEN Collection), public webinars, and social media. We share exemplary research and program models through our train-the-trainer programs, partnerships, and online platforms. NGCP works with projects and partnerships aimed specifically at engaging historically underrepresented groups, such as the Leap into Science program in partnership with the Franklin Institute, Latina SciGirls in partnership with Twin Cities Public Television, Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA in partnership with NASA’s Universe of Learning, and the Brite Program in collaboration with The Hello Studios. We also provide professional development on equity-focused strategies and curriculum, including culturally responsive pedagogy, such as through the Million Girls Moonshot initiative in partnership with the STEM Next Opportunity Fund. 

Q: How does NGCP support informal STEM learning and why is it important for girls’ and women’s STEM pathways?

Image of many people doing a reflection exercise outdoors. Participants create a “collaboration web” using crepe paper.A: Informal STEM learning is important for girls’ and women’s STEM pathways because it is uniquely positioned to incorporate strategies that have been shown to benefit girls’ engagement, interest, and confidence in STEM. This includes offering hands-on, open-ended activities and projects that are personally meaningful and relevant, which provide STEM opportunities that are collaborative and social, and providing exposure to diverse role models. Also, informal STEM opportunities are diverse and can present STEM in non-traditional ways to counter persistent stereotypes about what STEM is and who can be successful in it.

NGCP focuses on supporting practitioners and organizations who implement informal STEM learning programs. We support afterschool programs, museums, community-based organizations, and others who deliver informal STEM programs to youth by providing high-quality, vetted resources and professional development, and sharing best practices. NGCP also partners with national organizations focused on informal STEM learning to bring their resources to and make connections with programs and organization operating locally across the United States.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to INCLUDES Network members with a mission to successfully engage and retain girls and women in STEM education and careers, what would it be?

A: Seek out collaborative partners and find out what they need. We are stronger together and by working with another organization, you can increase impact and serve communities you might not be able to reach on your own.


You can access the full research brief here. Join the INCLUDES National Network at to connect with members and to access other resources that support efforts to expand participation in STEM learning and careers. If you have stories to tell about using any of these strategies, or if there are any other strategies for broadening participation of girls and women in STEM that you would recommend, let us know in the comments below.



2  When it was first coined in a 1989 legal brief by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality was defined as the double oppression that Black women faced because of the marginalization of both race and gender. She argued that discussions of feminist theory and antiracism excluded Black women because the “intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism.” (Crenshaw, 1989, p. 140). Today intersectionality has become a versatile term describing many overlapping systems of oppression including class, sexuality, ability, nationality, and religion in addition to race and gender.


1 comment



03-31-2021 01:46 PM

This is a great resource thanks for sharing